Should the Kings have drafted Luka Doncic?

NBA history features a few prominent stories of No. 3 draft picks who made teams that owned the No. 2 pick wish they had a do-over.

Of course there’s Michael Jordan, who went third in the 1984 draft right after the Portland Trail Blazers took Sam Bowie second.

Penny Hardaway was the No. 3 pick in 1993 after the Philadelphia 76ers chose Shawn Bradley second.

Carmelo Anthony went third in 2003 after the Detroit Pistons took a chance on Darko Milicic with the No. 2 pick.

James Harden was the No. 3 choice in 2009 following the Memphis Grizzlies’ selection of Hasheem Thabeet.

Noticing a theme? In a lot of instances where the third pick out-shined the second pick, the No. 3 choice was a dynamic and creative perimeter player that was passed over for a big man whose size was just as or more appealing than his skills.

In the 2018 draft, the Sacramento Kings used the No. 2 pick on Marvin Bagley III, a 6-foot-11 power forward who was dominant (21.0 points, 11.1 rebounds per game) in his freshman season at Duke University.

In the early stages of his pro career, Bagley has shown flashes of greatness. The 19-year-old has been sidelined for the last week with a knee injury, but all signs are showing he could very well develop into a star for the Kings.

But there’s another 19-year-old out there who could eventually haunt the Kings in the foreseeable future, as he has recently become the runaway favorite for NBA Rookie of the Year and looks like a lock to be a bona fide superstar.

That would be Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks’ guard/wing who was the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft — right after the Kings chose Bagley second.

Doncic is averaging 18.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists through 30 games and is clearly in line to be the face of the Dallas franchise whenever 40-year-old Dirk Nowitzki decides to retire.

Doncic is a 6-foot-7 playmaker and shooter who grew up in Slovenia and played pro ball in Spain before coming to the NBA.

His early-season highlight reel includes a 26-point effort in his second NBA game (a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves), a 31-point showing against the San Antonio Spurs, 24 points in a win over the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, 23 points and 12 assists against the Denver Nuggets, and a 32-point game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

But the signature performance of Doncic’s rookie year so far came on Dec. 8 when he scored 11 straight points in the fourth quarter to lead a comeback victory over the Houston Rockets.

Marvin Bagley, meanwhile, has been solid for the Kings. He’s averaging 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game even though he’s still coming off the bench and being brought along slowly by Sacramento coach Dave Joerger.

Bagley put up 20 points and 17 boards in a one-point loss to the Warriors. He posted 15-and-13 with three blocks in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. He had 20-9-5 against the Nuggets. He tallied 19 points, eight rebounds and three steals against the New Orleans Pelicans, going head-to-head at times with their superstar forward Anthony Davis and holding his own.

But Bagley has not made the impact or captured the public’s attention like Doncic. Bagley has been good, but Doncic has been great.

Which brings us back to the 2018 NBA Draft, and which makes people start to ask: Should the Kings have taken Doncic instead of Bagley? (Should the Phoenix Suns, who had the No. 1 overall pick and used it on 7-foot-1 center DeAndre Ayton, have taken Doncic?)

At the time, the Bagley pick made perfect sense for Sacramento.

The Kings appeared to have their backcourt of the future in place with youngsters De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, plus a couple of solid young guards coming off the bench in Bogdan Bogdanovic and Frank Mason III. Nobody would have objected to Sacramento taking a small forward, though, which Doncic can play. But the team had an obvious need for another big.

Plus, there was plenty of talk in basketball circles that Doncic and/or his people didn’t want to go to the Kings, whereas Bagley said prior to the draft that he was excited at the possibility of starting his NBA career in Sacramento.

For what it’s worth, Kings general manager Vlade Divac said the decision to pick Bagley over Doncic was an easy one.

There’s no need to say Divac was right or wrong at this point in the season.

It would still be too early at the end of this season to make that call. There have been plenty of players who had great rookie seasons, only to either peak there or decline. (Michael Carter-Williams, Mike Miller, Larry Johnson, to name a few.) Just as there have been plenty of players who became all-time greats after a less-than-amazing rookie season. (Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett, to name a few.)

Bagley could still turn out to be a superstar that the Kings would have zero regrets of drafting. Doncic could still turn out to be lower on the NBA totem pole than Bagley when this draft class is ultimately graded for prosperity.

But with the NBA’s unofficial mainstream reveal approaching on Christmas Day, the early returns say that Doncic is the best player from this group of rookies, and teams that had a chance to get him and didn’t — a.k.a. the Kings — will come to regret that decision.

Los Angeles Clippers Sneakily Leading the West

When the NBA’s power rankings for Week 6 came out, some were shocked to say the least. While flying under the radar, the Los Angeles Clippers have been ranked No. 1.

It’s easy to reminisce about the old Clippers squad that included their (former) face of the franchise Blake Griffin, and the rest of their front runners- Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. Those three combined with the skills of JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford and a hefty bench, it was long expected that the Clippers would rise to the top. Obviously, that never happened.

Today, Los Angeles is turning into the dark horse of the league. Not many have been paying too much attention to them, that is, until now.

The Clippers roster is young, and eccentric. It’s definitely full of names you wouldn’t likely make a team out of, and I think that’s why it’s working. This young LA team is currently on a five-game winning streak and looking to make it six tonight against the Washington Wizards. Clippers are already favored the win by 54.7%.

Doc Rivers has found a solid rotation and a hard-to-beat starting five including Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Marcin Gortat and Tobias Harris. Their last game against the Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley started for Gallinari who’s currently listed day-to-day with an illness.

Rookie Gilgeous-Alexander came into the league playing like he’s been here for a couple years. He was comfortable and aggressive, and he’s continued that trend. In his last 10 games he’s averaged 10.8 points and about three assists per game while shooting 46% from the field. The rookie teamed up alongside a vet like Beverley has been a great dynamic for the team. Also, Gilgeous-Alexander is getting the chance to learn the ways of the game from one of the most aggressive point guards in the league. It’ll be exciting to watch him grow as a player. Especially if he becomes the new face of the franchise, which it seems like he’s already on the road to doing so.

In the month of November, Harris has proved how important he is to this team. He’s averaging 20.9 points and 8.8 boards per game. He also has an active streak of 15+ points in 16 straight games.

However, it’s not just the starters. If you’ve watched even one Clippers game this season, then you saw the strength of their players off the bench. The days of one player being the only solid sixth man are gone. Lou Williams is always dependable, but the Clippers also have the advantage of Mike Scott and the monster himself- Montrezl Harrell. There’s several other power houses coming off the bench for LA as well, like the friendly giant Boban Marjanovic.

Both Harrell and Williams have scored double digits in their last five games. Against Golden State, Harrell dropped 23 while Williams dropped 25.

In just November, Harrell has been averaging 17 points per game while shooting 68% from the field. Some starters in the NBA don’t even make stats like that.

As a team, the Clippers are averaging 117.9 points and 46.8 total rebounds per game, while their opponents are averaging 112.8 points and 45.9 boards per game. The team is also shooting just below 40% from the three-point line and slightly above 50% from the field. They’re also shooting 82% from the free-throw line, while their opponents are shooting 77% from the stripe.

Los Angeles is currently leading the West, tied up with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Memphis Grizzlies who all hold the same record of 11-5. The Golden State Warriors are just under them with a 12-6 record.

As much as we all foresaw the Clippers making a legit title run while they had stars on their roster, it just never really clicked. Only two months into this season and things are already clicking for this squad. It was great to have superstars on the team, but with a roster like this one, full of young and hungry players, success is more likely than ever now.

Buddy Hield is having a breakout season

The Sacramento Kings have started the 2018-19 season better than anyone outside of California’s capital city would have predicted, and third-year shooting guard Buddy Hield deserves a significant share of the credit.

Hield is tied for the team lead in scoring, averaging 18.7 points per game while shooting 47.4 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three-point range and 82.9 percent at the free-throw line. His 5.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game are also career-high numbers.

The Kings are 8-6 following Monday’s win over the Spurs. The franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in 12 years is currently in eighth place in the Western Conference.

It’s unlikely Sacramento hangs onto that playoff seed — slow-starting yet star-studded teams like the Rockets, Jazz, Lakers, Pelicans and Timberwolves are all behind the Kings in the standings — but they have noticeably improved from last season, when they finished 27-55.

The Kings are trending in the right direction, with Hield enjoying a breakout season as one of the important pieces of their rebuilding project.

Two years ago, when Hield was crowned college basketball’s national player of the year by a majority of outlets, there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t go on to become a star in the NBA.

Hield averaged 25.0 points per game as a senior at Oklahoma, leading the nation in three-pointers and leading the Sooners to the Final Four. He was taken No. 6 in the 2016 draft by the Pelicans.

However, Buddy didn’t exactly take the league by storm. Midway through his rookie season, he was traded to the Kings as part of the DeMarcus Cousins deal.

The history of NBA stars who were discarded during during their first year by their first team is short, but it has happened before. Chauncey Billups and Joe Johnson come to mind — both of them were traded by the Celtics as rookies and bounced around for a few years before earning All-Star status.

Hield could follow a similar path. Early into his third season, he is producing at a consistently high level. And more important than his stats, Hield appears to be carrying himself differently. He is playing like he believes he is the best player on the court.

Hield may not be “The Man” in Sacramento (yet). That title could go to point guard De’Aaron Fox, who is tied with Hield for the team lead in scoring at 18.7 points per game. Perhaps it’s being groomed for rookie forward Marvin Bagley III, the No. 2 pick in the most recent draft. The Kings have one thing in common with the two-time defending NBA champion Warriors in that they don’t have a clearly defined No. 1 guy.

But Hield is at least carrying himself like he wants to be the Kings’ top guy. He is calling for the ball in the fourth quarter. He wants it at the end of quarters so he can take the last shot, like many stars do.

Another thing that stars do is respond strongly to a subpar performance.

On Oct. 23, Hield had by far his worst game of the season, scoring just five points in a loss to the Nuggets. He bounced back by scoring 20-plus points in six of his next seven games, including a season-high 27-point effort in a win over the Hawks.

The jump shot — and the range that comes with it — will always be the bread-and-butter of Hield’s game. But this season he is becoming more of a well-rounded scorer instead of a pure shooter. He’s also showing improvement as a ball-handler and passer. His Defensive Rating is even a career-best 100.9 this season, which ranks third-best on the Kings.

Hield is leading the Kings in shot attempts and ranks second in minutes played. Head coach Dave Joerger is keeping Hield on the court when it matters, and Hield wants the ball when it matters. And he’s producing when he gets it.

All-Star nods and having his name at the top of the marquee may still be a few years away for Hield, but this season it looks like he has put himself on a realistic road to what seemed like a certainty when he entered the league.

Thank You Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler

On Monday, it will become official. Jimmy Butler will be a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. Over the course of the past year and a half, Butler has put Minnesota fans through it all. He taught Minnesota how to love basketball again. Butler gave Wolves fans a sense of hope and optimism for the future. He got Minnesota back to the playoffs, a place they hadn’t been since the Kevin Garnett days. Then, he also taught Minnesota that they can’t be too fortunate. Right when fans were hopeful of the future, ready to make another run at the playoffs, Butler asked out. But, let’s forget about that and look back on the good times that Jimmy Butler provided for Minnesota. Timberwolves fans, it’s time to say “Thank You” to Jimmy Butler.

 

Jimmy Butler,

Thank you for bringing back basketball hope to the state of Minnesota. The 2017 NBA Draft had Minnesota buzzing after the trade for you was completed. Wolves fans finally felt like they had a legitimate chance at making the playoffs again for the first time since the 2003/04 season.

Thank you for giving out your phone number when you were introduced in Minnesota. Wolves fans bought in on that day. People could sense your determination and will to win, it was very apparent.

Thank you for playing with 100% energy and effort every game of the season. It’s not always the easiest thing to play at full effort, especially when you’re playing 40 minutes a game, thank you Tom Thibodeau. But, you didn’t complain. No matter how tired or out of breath you were, the effort was always there.

Thank you for providing Wolves fans and NBA fans across the globe with a number of classic GIFS. Especially my favorite video of you messing with Taj after a failed full-court heave.

Thank you for bringing the Minnesota Timberwolves back to the playoffs. It was a long 13 years for Minnesota basketball. It was quite the drought. I think half of Minnesota didn’t even realize we had a professional men’s basketball team anymore. But, that night at Target Center against the Denver Nuggets to get into the playoffs was special. Target Center was rocking, and there’s a chance we won’t see the Target Center like that again, at least in the immediate future.

Your time in Minnesota came to a sour end, and Wolves fans won’t be happy with that. But, for a franchise that had been missing the “it” player for over a decade, thank you for showing Minnesota what it’s like to watch winning basketball again.

Jimmy Butler Trade: Initial Reactions

Jimmy Butler

When the Sixers and Wolves get on the phone with the league office on Monday morning, it will all be official. Jimmy Butler is being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. The complete trade is as follows: the Wolves will send Butler and Justin Patton to Philly in exchange for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick. Initially, it looks like a deal that both sides should be comfortable with, at least given the circumstances. Minnesota finally gets to move on, and hopefully, start looking like a basketball team again. The Sixers get a third star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. For the purpose of this article, I will be providing reactions on the side of the Timberwolves.

 

It was time to move on

When push comes to shove, the Timberwolves had to trade Jimmy Butler. They already let the situation go on too long, and it was beginning to take a toll on the locker room. Media members who were in Minnesota’s locker room following their loss to the Kings last night described the scene as frustrated and beat up. Despite the players insisting that the Butler situation wasn’t affecting their play, it was hard to deny the lack of chemistry on the court for Minnesota early in the season.

 

Was this the best deal?

Perhaps Minnesota didn’t get the best deal. Their best offer could’ve came before the season when Miami reportedly offered Josh Richardson and a first-round pick to Minnesota. The Wolves balked and had to settle for what they could get. However, the deal they did get was not equal value, but good value considering the situation.

 

The new-look Wolves

Perhaps the biggest winner in this trade is Karl-Anthony Towns. It appears the Wolves are ready to run through the all-star center on offense, something Wolves fans have been pleading for all season. With Butler out of town, Towns and Wiggins will be the main scoring threats for Minnesota, and with all the talk about Minnesota not being able to win without Jimmy, those two players should be motivated. Additionally, getting Covington and Saric provide long-term stability to the roster that sets them up great for the years to come. While the team may flourish under a coach not named Tom Thibodeau, this was the first step in the right direction.

Robert Covington and Dario Saric
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

How the new guys fit in

If I had to guess, Covington and Saric should see themselves plug right into the starting lineup. While Thibs may decide to keep Taj Gibson in the starting lineup, with Saric coming off the bench, Saric needs to be the starter while Minnesota plays this season out.

The biggest upside to the return for Minnesota is the spacing that Covington and Saric provide. Covington is attempting 5.9 threes per game this season, while Saric is also shooting 5.4 shots from downtown this season. Minnesota has been focused on the three ball so far this season, and Covington and Saric will provide even better spacing for Minnesota when they enter the lineup. In Philly, Covington and Saric were a big reason why Embiid could be so efficient in the paint. Guys who were defending Covington or Saric could not sag off those guys to help on Embiid, because both players are effective shooters from three.

Another upside in the return for Minnesota is Covington’s defensive ability. Widely known as a great perimeter defender, Covington will likely guard the opposing team’s most effective player night in and night out. Minnesota is not a great defensive team, and while trading Butler will hurt their defense, adding Covington will make the drop off a little less hurtful.

 

Conclusion

As I have said all too many times, this was a move the Wolves needed to make. It was time, everybody knew it, and it was getting obvious on the court. While the Wolves likely won’t be contending for a title anytime soon, this was the first step in the right direction in getting Minnesota where they want to be.

The Triumphant Journey of Derrick Rose

It all started in 2008, with a strike of good luck.

The Chicago Bulls won the draft lottery, which was a 1.7 percent chance of landing the first pick. With that, they selected none other than Chicago native Derrick Rose.

Rose came into the league ambitious and confident. He ended his rookie season with the Bull’s averaging 16.8 points and 6.3 assists per game after shooting 47.5% from the field.

Later that year, before playoffs, Rose injured his wrist. Wasn’t a big deal, he only missed a single game. After that, he managed to rack up 36 points in his playoffs debut against the Boston Celtics.

Rose was then named 2009 Rookie of the Year.

The next year’s season brought Rose more injuries. Nothing too devastating… yet. He injured his hip, which luckily didn’t cause him to miss any games. Then only about a month later, he injured his wrist. That caused him to miss four games, then he returned and finished out his sophomore season relatively healthy. Rose averaged 20.8 points and six assists per game.

The 2010-11 season begun with a healthy Rose who dropped 28 and 39 in the first two games of the season. Rose was playing like himself, and only improving as time went on. He ended up averaging 25 points and 7.7 assists, while shooting 44.5% percent from the field.

At 22 years old, Rose was named the league MVP. He became the youngest in NBA history to be awarded such an honor.

Then, the season that changed everything started.

The 2011-12 season brought Rose nothing but misfortune, and became a statement making season for years to come.

Rose began the season normal, however, he did hit a few road blocks with minor injuries here and there. He missed a few games ever so often, but was seeming to always manage to return to normal.

It was game one of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Bulls hosted the Philadelphia 76ers. Thirty-seven minutes into Rose’s playing time, he tore his ACL in his left knee. If you remember the game, it was an emotional one. Every player on the Bulls bench was concerned, shocked and feeling for Rose. There was a feeling of heaviness among the arena for the rest of the night. Chicago went on to win the game, but ended up losing the series 2-4 without the lead of Rose.

Rose sat out the entire season of 2012-13, recovering.

October 5th, 2013 was when Rose finally stepped foot on the hardwood again. He ended up dropping solid numbers in preseason. He started averaging around 16 points a game in the regular season.

Rose was hit with a stroke of bad luck yet again. He tore the meniscus in his right knee, while playing against the Portland Trailblazers on the road. It ended up being a season ending injury. Bulls fans and basketball fans in general all mourned for Rose’s unfortunate happening.

After recovering, the point guard hit the hardwood running to kick off the 2014-15 season. He was starting, playing solid minutes and averaging decent numbers. Rose then tore his meniscus AGAIN, same knee. It started to seem like this guy was cursed, and just couldn’t catch a break.

The rest of Rose’s career with the Bulls entailed a sexual assault case (which is still evolving), broken facial bones, rolled ankles, tendonitis and then BOOM, he’s traded.

Rose joined the New York Knicks for the 2016-17 season where he averaged 18 points a game, which was his highest PPG since 2012. In the latter half of that season, Rose tore his meniscus yet again, and was forced to sit out the final five games of the season.

The Cleveland Cavaliers acquired Rose for the 2017-18 season. During a game versus the Milwaukee Bucks, Rose was fouled hard and suffered an ankle injury that led to him miss a total of 32 games.

In March of that same year, the Minnesota Timberwolves sought out a deal to snag Rose.

He went on to play nine games with the Timberwolves before their season ended, and averaged a low 5.8 points.

Looking back, Rose has been through hell, which some things he may still be dealing with. He’s been injury ridden, which caused him to be tossed around to several teams, and has hit so many road blocks that it’s almost unbelievable that he’s still trying. Some may call it insanity.

However, it’s intriguing. The same point guard that was averaging 8.4 points last season just dropped a career-high 50 points on Halloween in the Timberwolves’ 128-125 win over the Utah Jazz. Several athletes took to twitter to send some praise Rose’s way. Some say he’s “revived” his career. Some are calling it a fluke. Who knows? It may be too early in the season to dub it a complete comeback. It’ll take time. There’s a whole season ahead of us.

In his eight games played thus far this year, he’s averaging 18.8 points and 5 turnovers.

Where does De’Aaron Fox rank among NBA point guards?

Most of the NBA’s best point guards did not have a significant spike in production from their rookie season to their second year in the league.

Go down the list — Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, etc. — and you’ll notice the typical progression involves a slight uptick in the major bulk stats of points and assists, and maybe a significant jump in shooting percentages. That could be attributed to the game slowing down for a second-year player who isn’t pressing as much as a rookie.

In that sense, what De’Aaron Fox is doing for the Sacramento Kings in the very early stages of the 2018-19 season is an exception to the rule — presuming that he is in fact on the road to becoming one of the NBA’s top players at his position.

As a rookie last season, Fox — the No. 5 pick in the draft out of Kentucky — averaged 11.6 points, 4.4 assists and 1.0 steals per game, shooting 41.2 percent from the field.

Six games into Year 2, Fox is putting up 17.7 points, 7.0 assists and 1.3 steals while hitting 47.4 percent of his shots from the field.

If Fox keeps this up, the leap he will make between his first and second pro seasons would mimic that of Kemba Walker, the Charlotte Hornets’ two-time All-Star point guard. Walker averaged 12.1 points and 4.4 assists on 36 percent shooting as a rookie for a Charlotte team that posted a historically awful 7-59 record during a 66-game lockout-shortened season. In his second year, Walker upped his numbers to 17.7 points and 5.7 assists while shooting 42 percent. Charlotte was a little bit better than before, finishing 21-61.

The seemingly overnight improvement for Fox could be chalked up primarily to confidence. Not from Fox, who is utterly confident in his abilities, but rather from Kings coach Dave Joerger.

Going into his rookie year, Fox was described by Joerger as possibly having the highest basketball IQ on the team. However, Joerger tends to take it slow with his rookies. Fox began the season coming off the bench behind veteran point guard George Hill.

Fox eventually earned the full-time starting job (and Hill was eventually traded), but the Kings were a team that appeared unsure of its identity — only half-committed to its youth movement while still leaning on veterans like Zach Randolph and Vince Carter who are near the end of their respective careers.

This season, the Kings are all-in on the kids: Fox (20 years old), rookie forward Marvin Bagley III (19), shooting guard Buddy Hield (24), center Willie Cauley-Stein (25), forward Harry Giles (20), wing Justin Jackson (23), center Skal Labissiere (22) and guard Frank Mason III (24).

Carter was allowed to walk in free agency over the summer, and Randolph — the team’s leading scorer last season — has not played a single minute through the Kings’ first six games.

Fox has benefited from being handed the keys to the Kings from Day 1 of training camp as the starting point guard. He’s playing over 32 minutes per game in October, compared to last December when he played just 22 minutes per game.

Joerger gave Fox another ringing endorsement recently at the Kings’ Media Day:

“The best thing you can do for him is play fast and give him as much room as possible,” Joerger said Monday at the Kings practice facility during media day. “To play small and try to do that is best for De’Aaron. He’s our franchise guy. I think he is and I think everybody kind of agrees on that.”

On Friday, Fox and the Kings faced the Washington Wizards, meaning Fox went head-to-head with All-Star point guard John Wall.

Because they both played college ball at Kentucky, and because they’re two of the fastest men in the sport, Fox has often been compared to Wall. Which makes their 1-on-1 meetings something of a litmus test for Fox’s progress.

Fox faced Wall and the Wizards twice last season, and two times he was badly outplayed while the Kings lost convincingly.

On Friday, Fox led the Sacramento to a 116-112 victory while putting up 18 points and nine assists, shooting 7-for-14 (50 percent) from the field. Wall had 26 points, eight assists and three steals while making 9-for-20 (45 percent) from the field.

The good version of Fox and the still-learning version of Fox were both on display. The good was the baseline crossover and dunk he threw down in the first half, and when he scored or assisted on 15 straight points for the Kings in the fourth quarter. The bad was later in the fourth quarter when he took two ill-advised, rushed shots in the same possession that he missed badly when Sacramento was trying to protect a three-point lead.

Fox’s leadership also factored into the win over the Wizards. He was the one encouraging Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica to keep shooting even after he missed his first few attempts. Bjelica wound up being huge for the Kings with 24 points and six threes.

Between his individual stats, some standout performances against other good point guards, and the fact that the Kings are doing better than expected at 3-3 heading into a four-game Eastern Conference road trip that starts Monday in Miami, it’s worth asking …

Where does Fox rank among the NBA’s starting point guards right now?

I have him in the top 15:

  1. Stephen Curry
  2. Russell Westbrook
  3. Chris Paul
  4. Kyrie Irving
  5. Kemba Walker
  6. Damian Lillard
  7. Ben Simmons
  8. John Wall
  9. Kyle Lowry
  10. Rajon Rondo
  11. Jrue Holiday
  12. De’Aaron Fox
  13. Mike Conley
  14. Reggie Jackson
  15. Goran Dragic

When the Kings beat Westbrook and the Thunder, Fox put up 22 points and 10 assists while shooting 58 percent from the field. Westbrook finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, shooting 56 percent.

In Sacramento’s win over Memphis, Fox posted 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists on 43 percent shooting, while Conley went for 27 points, six rebounds and five assists on 45 percent shooting.

In the Kings’ loss to the Pelicans, Fox put up 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists on 50 percent shooting against Holiday, who had 15 points, 6 rebounds and 10 assists on 45 percent shooting.

Numbers aren’t everything, of course.

Perhaps the most impressive thing Fox has done this season is take the reigns of a very young team and help make them competitive. The Kings still need a lot of work defensively, but offensively they’ve been good enough to hang in there with or beat some more talented, experienced teams.

More specifically, Fox has improved in his ability to run the Kings’ offense and play under control.

He has always been fast and a great athlete, but sometimes Fox plays too fast for his own good. Now he’s learning how to play point guard in the NBA. Ideally, what you’d want Fox to do is blend that Allen Iverson speed with an Andre Miller approach to the game.

If he does that, Fox will continue moving up the ranks as one of the league’s best at what he does.

Don’t Panic…. Yet

Scared money don’t make none. These words echoed throughout our hearts and souls in this seemingly perfect off-season. Two consecutive years now OKC has had a summer that did nothing short of inspiring the entire state into believing greatness was coming, but for the second consecutive start to the season something is wrong. Yes, Russ missed the first two games, but losing at home to the Kings and then another second-half collapse to the Celtics have given birth to that familiar worry we have felt as Thunder fans all too often. Don’t press the panic alarm yet though, there are some simple steps this team can take and get back on the right track in this wild wild west.

Let’s start with the obvious. Terrance Ferguson needs to play less. MUCH MUCH LESS. He is playing about 20 minutes per game and shooting a whopping 18.8% from the field and less than 10% from three. The 2nd year guard has looked lost and is a net negative for OKC right now. He doesn’t even appear to want the ball on offense at times just standing in the corner as if he were Andre Roberson. I have no quarrels with getting your young 20-year-old minutes to develop him, but 20 minutes a game from someone who is a net negative is absurd.

Now we need someone to start in place of Ferguson. We need a guy who can step in right away and contribute. Someone with experience and has something this team desperately needs. SHOOTING! Alex Abrines needs to start and play close to 30 minutes a night. He adds a different element to this team none of the other guys can provide right now. He isn’t shooting stellar right now, but we know the Spaniard can catch fire quickly.

Lastly, OKC has to hit free throws. Everyone knows OKC doesn’t have great shooters. We all understand that this team doesn’t have great free throw shooters necessarily. But 64%???? That is just awful and good for dead last in the NBA. Andre Roberson has yet to step foot on the floor and this team is last in free throw percentage. It’s unacceptable. It is early and they won’t continue to be this bad, but in order for this team to compete with the best of the best, they have to hit free throws. They don’t have the luxury of elite shooters on the wings to get them back in the game. This team is going to win games through swarming defense, relentless attacks on the rim and taking advantage at the line.

OKC is not in panic mode. Fans should be worried, players should be on edge, and Billy Donovan should be squirming in his seat a bit. The panic button is starting to vibrate a bit. It’s over in the corner of the office looking enticing. Don’t press it. Resist the urge. This team has two All-Stars and elite athletes across the board. They will be fine. But hey, if they lose to the Suns Sunday. Sound the alarms.

It’s time for the Kings to unleash Marvin Bagley III

Marvin Bagley III

In his third season as head coach of the Sacramento Kings, Dave Joerger has shown one consistent preference when it comes to rookies: He likes to bring them along slowly.

The Kings began Joerger’s first season with three rookies on the roster who were first-round draft picks, and added a fourth with a midseason trade for Buddy Hield. The rookies started a combined 30 games, and 18 of those were by Hield, who didn’t join the team until February. Skal Labissiere started 12 games, while Malachi Richardson and Georgios Papagiannis never started.

In Year 2, the Kings took point guard De’Aaron Fox with the No. 5 pick. Although he was often their top scorer, he was still coming off the bench until about one month into the season while Joerger stuck with veteran George Hill. From the looks of things, it took an embarrassing 46-point loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks to make Joerger finally pull the trigger on making Fox — who the coach had already said may have the highest basketball IQ on the team — a full-time starter.

That patient approach wouldn’t be a big deal in a place like San Antonio with a coach like Gregg Popovich. The Spurs are a perennially successful franchise that doesn’t often get lottery picks and doesn’t need 19-year-old rookies to make an impact.

The Kings, however, are constantly in search of that next savior and face of the franchise. Sacramento hasn’t made the playoffs in 12 years. They seem to have a permanent reservation at the NBA Draft Lottery table. So it can be understandably frustrating and confusing for Kings fans when their shiny new rookies aren’t being handed the keys like other top picks around the league.

The latest potential star for this team that is being is being brought along slowly is rookie forward Marvin Bagley III, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft who is by all accounts viewed as a critical piece of the franchise’s foundation.

But one week into the season, Bagley is still coming off the bench, and it looks like Joerger is again taking the slow approach with a standout rookie.

Meanwhile, it has become clear that Bagley is legit and that it’s time for the Kings to unleash him on the rest of the league.

Bagley’s NBA debut was forgettable. He only played 12 minutes in a loss to the Utah Jazz. But even in that cameo, he showed some flashes of brilliance. In his second game, he put up 19 points, eight rebounds and three steals in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans in which he was at times matched up with MVP candidate Anthony Davis and more than held his own.

Bagley posted 13 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes during Sacramento’s first victory of the season, last Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In Tuesday’s loss to the still-undefeated Denver Nuggets, Bagley looked like a star: 20 points, nine rebounds, three assists and five blocks while shooting 9-for-11 from the field. He played 32 minutes on the road in Denver’s notorious high-altitude and his motor never appeared to slow down. And again, he came off the bench.

Perhaps the impressive play Bagley made in the Nuggets game — and there were plenty — was on the defensive end. He was being posted up by Denver’s Trey Lyles, who spun into the lane, fooled Bagley on a pump fake and went up to shoot. But Bagley recovered so quickly that he was able to block Lyles’ shot on his second jump.

On another play, Bagley was being posted up by Denver center Nikola Jokic, who was voted the Western Conference Player of the Week and appears on his way to an All-Star Game berth. Jokic, who has about 15 pounds and a couple of inches on Bagley, went up strong right at the rim but Bagley blocked his shot.

Another time, Bagley blocked a shot by All-Star forward Paul Millsap, trailed the ensuing Sacramento fast break, then drove past Millsap to score between him and Jokic at the rim.

Although it’s a short four-game sample size, Bagley is showcasing a skill set that is similar to the likes of established stars Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid. He can score in the paint, from mid-range, and hit 3-pointers. He can handle the ball and run the floor. He can defend multiple positions and block shots.

Bagley (14.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 60% FG) should be starting for the Kings. It may not seem like a big deal, since he’s getting a lot of minutes, but that simple gesture isn’t just about putting the team in a better position to win. It is also a vote of confidence for the 19-year-old that he is one of the building blocks and faces of the franchise.

10/22 NBA Over/Under Picks

LeBron James Lakers

Pacers @ Timberwolves: 226

The Pick: Over

In my eyes, this is a safe pick for tonight. The Minnesota Timberwolves don’t play defense, and they score a ton of points. With Jimmy Butler likely to return to the court for Minnesota tonight, their offense will gain more firepower. For Indiana, they have also been a high scoring team, averaging over 114 points per game through their first three contests. For a game with two teams that have a ton of offensive firepower, take the over on this contest.

 

Magic @ Celtics: 210

The Pick: Under

The Celtics defense is no joke, and the Magic leave something to be desired on the offensive end. With a home game in Boston, expect the Celtics to clamp down on defense and keep the total on the under.

 

Hornets @ Raptors: 225.5

The Pick: Under

This seems like a safe pick tonight. While the Hornets have been scoring the ball with ease early in the season, the Raptors have one of the best defenses in the league. For me, this game will easily stay under the total.

Knicks @ Bucks: 226.5

The Pick: Over

Two teams who don’t play defense! Both teams should be able to dominant the opposing defense allowing this to be a high scoring contest. With little defense expected, the over is the choice for Knicks @ Bucks.

 

Bulls @ Mavericks: 230

The Pick: Over

More teams that don’t play defense! Along with no defense, both teams have a solid offense, allowing this game to hit the over, despite the high total.

 

Grizzlies @ Jazz: 216.5

The Pick: Under

Stay away from this game. This is one of the harder games to judge on the slate. Theoretically, the game should be under the total, but with the high scoring contests in the NBA this season, it’s safe to bet on a different game.

 

Wizards @ Blazers: 226

The Pick: Over

Both teams have started the season out hot offensively, and I’m expecting that to continue tonight. The teams will be looking to outscore the other in a game that will have a lot of points. Take the over in this contest.

Suns @ Warriors: 227.5

The Pick: Over

In what seems like another easy pick, this game is more complicated than it may seem. With the Warriors playing on the back end of a back-to-back, there is always the possibility of Golden State resting players. However, I still see this game hitting the over, despite the risks.

 

Spurs @ Lakers: 221.5

The Pick: Under

The Lakers don’t like to play defense. But, with Rondo and Ingram out, their offense will be slightly more limited. With a great defensive team in the Spurs, I see the game staying under the total in a risky play.